One of the most colorful, and frankly, strangest and unpredictable individuals in baseball history was Casey Stengel. Stengel, who won World Series managing the New York Yankees, and won over fans managing the losing New York Mets, is the subject of a new biography by Marty Appel.
The book, Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character (Doubleday, 2017), was just released in late March, 2017. As of this writing, it is in the top 20 in three best-selling categories in baseball books, as ranked by Amazon.com.
If you do not know Marty Appel, and if you are a sports fan, where have you been? He was the youngest public relations director in baseball history when Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner put him in that position in 1973. He wrote Munson: The Life and Death of a Yankee Captain (Doubleday, 2009), and Pinstripe Empire: The New York Yankees from Before the Babe to After the Boss (Bloomsbury, 2012).
Here is a summary of the book, taken from Amazon.com:
“As a player, Charles Dillon “Casey” Stengel’s contemporaries included Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, and Christy Mathewson . . . and he was the only person in history to wear the uniforms of all four New York teams: the Dodgers, Giants, Yankees, and Mets. As a legendary manager, he formed indelible, complicated relationships with Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, and Billy Martin. For more than five glorious decades, Stengel was the undisputed, quirky, hilarious, and beloved face of baseball–and along the way he revolutionized the role of manager while winning a spectactular ten pennants and seven World Series Championships.
“But for a man who spent so much of his life in the limelight–an astounding fifty-five years in professional baseball–Stengel remains an enigma. Acclaimed New York Yankees’ historian and bestselling author Marty Appel digs into Casey Stengel’s quirks and foibles, unearthing a tremendous trove of baseball stories, perspective, and history. Weaving in never-before-published family documents, Appel creates an intimate portrait of a private man who was elected into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1966 and named “Baseball’s Greatest Character” by MLB Network’s Prime 9. Casey Stengel is a biography that will be treasured by fans of our national pastime.”
A critical review of this book appeared in the Wall Street Journal on April 22-23, 2017 (p. C9), entitled “The Lunatic Wore Pinstripes,” by Leigh Montville. He ends the article by saying, “The past is always baseball’s perfect prologue. Stengel’s tale, freshened by new research and solid prose from Mr. Appel, is a wonderful way to ease into the baseball season without ever leaving the couch. Play ball.”
But, I was also very disappointed in him. It simply screams “there will be a sequel.” It is unlike every other book he has ever written.
I only read the customer reviews on Amazon.com after I wrote this post. In general, these are vicious. I don’t think the story is that bad, and I don’t think it’s boring. Maybe it has just enough sex to keep me interested. But, I do join others who criticize the book for the low-quality ending. Just finish the story, John. Move on to the next book.
In summary, to find out what happens, you will have to buy the next book. That has never been the case for Grisham, who has penned so many best-sellers over the years, and which have found their way to the big screen through adaptation. Who has ever forgotten The Firm?
You won’t find this one moving to film. At least, not until we know the ending.
Since the Dallas Cowboys are “America’s Team,” you can understand why they have been the subject of so many books. I have read a lot of them.
The most recent, and likely, best-selling edition is called The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America by Joe Nick Patoski (New York: Little Brown, 2012). At 805 pages, it does the job.
But, I don’t think it’s the best. If you really want the history, go back to a book that concentrates on the first nine years of the team’s existence (1960-1969). And, that book is entitled Dallas Cowboys Pro or Con: A Complete History by Sam Blair (New York: Doubleday, 1970). The book is long out of print, but it is available through third-party sellers.
Before his retirement, Blair was a columnist for the Dallas Morning News. I met him through the late Merle Harmon, who broadcast games for area sports teams for many years. Blair was the paper’s first Dallas Cowboys writer, and he worked for the Dallas Morning News for 41 years (1954-1995).
Blair was a writer in a different era. In his career, there was not muckraking, blowing up heresay into facts, instant messaging, social media availability, or anything like today’s journalistic activity. Writers went to press conferences, chatted informally with players and coaches, kept off-the-record tidbits exactly that way, and did not blow up rumors into stories. It is true that they were laid-back, let the stories come to them, and were definitely not Watergate-style investigative reporters.
Perhaps even more so than Blair was Red Smith, who was an editorialist for the New York Times and New York Herald Tribune from the 1930’s through the 1980’s. I read a great collection of his columns in a book by Daniel Okrent entitled American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith (New York: Library of America, 2013). Writers like Blair and Smith were just so different than you see today.
But, back to the Cowboys book by Blair. I guess that I select it for history because it is concentrated on the early years. It does not have to spread itself thin over 50 years. The context of Dallas, Texas, and especially the rivalry for ticket sales with Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Texans is so vivid in the book. Because it only covers the first nine years, you find all aspects of the team covered in a well-developed manner.
There were other books published about the team at that time that were also good. I remember reading the late Steve Perkins’ Next Year’s Champions (New York: World Publishing, 1969) . But, that book focused on a single season when the Cowboys did not advance as far as they had previously into the NFL Championship game. I remember it had a drawing of Don Meredith on the cover, wrapped around by Green Bay Packer linebacker Dave Robinson, as he through an interception into the end zone in the fourth quarter of the 1966 NFL Championship game. And, I remember how much I was stricken by the racism and bigotry in our area, even for star Cowboys players in the 1960’s, as told in Cotton Bowl Days by John Eisenberg, which was later retitled, and is now unavailable even through third party sellers.
I just think if you want to study the team’s history, why not read it historically? And, Blair’s book is the one that allows you to do that. You have to search for it, but you can find it.
With the flurry of collegiate bowl games and the onset of professional football playoffs, my attention today turns away from business to sports.
Sports has long been a popular arena for writers, including from those who cover the various events, as well as those who coach and play it. Sports has also been an increasingly popular source for business analogies – “you hit a home run,’ “that presentation was a hole-in-one,” “it was a slam-dunk in there today,” and so forth.
If you were to ask me what my all-time favorite sports book is, it would not take very long to get you an answer. My choice is Instant Replay: The Green Bay Diary of Jerry Kramer (Doubleday, 1968). In that book, the former offensive guard for the Packers revealed in-depth and behind-the-scenes information about life with legendary coach Vince Lombardi. Of interest to Dallas Cowboys fans is the revelation that he believed he may have been offsides on the famous goal-line plunge by quarterback Bart Starr that gave the Packers a last-minute victory in the famed 1967 Ice Bowl. How we have wished that they could have been pushed back five yards!
The book was republished in 2006, and that edition is still available on Amazon.com. But, for me, I read the book as a teenager, and I remember many parts of it vividly.
One other note about this book: like many works that athletes authored, this one was “as told to,” and the target was Dick Schapp. He was one of the great sports writers and interviewers of modern times. Even the unpredictable and volatile basketball coaching legend Bobby Knight admired him. Sports fans throughout the the world miss him.
That’s my vote. What about you?